690. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Justice the funding provided for free legal advice for applicants through the Legal Aid Board's refugee legal service as provided for in the International Protection Act 2015 in each of the years 2016 to 2020 and to date in 2021, in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12590/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): The Legal Aid Board is the statutory body responsible for the provision of civil legal aid and advice to persons of modest means in the State, in accordance with the provisions of the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 and the Civil Legal Aid Regulations 1996 to 2017.
Section 3(3) of the Act provides that the Board shall, subject to the provisions of the Act, be independent in the exercise of its functions. However, to be of assistance to the Deputy I have had enquiries made with the Legal Aid Board on foot of which the following information is provided.
Civil legal aid and advice is provided primarily through a network of law centres by solicitors employed by the Legal Aid Board. There are 30 full time and 12 part-time law centres. Arising from the enactment of the International Protection Act 2015, the Legal Aid Board integrated the Refugee Legal Service into its main law centre network. Specific law centres in Dublin, Cork and Galway currently include an international protection speciality. International protection is one of many services provided by those law centres. The Legal Aid Board also engages private solicitors to provide services in international protection cases. A substantial portion of the Board’s international protection cases are handled by private practitioners.
With the introduction of the single application procedure following the enactment of the International Protection Act 2015, the Board established and maintains a panel of solicitors who are willing to provide services to persons who have been granted legal services for the purpose of: advice and/or representation in relation to an application under the International Protection Act 2015 for asylum, subsidiary protection and permission to remain; and for all relevant matters covered by the International Protection Act 2015, the Refugee Act 1996 and the Immigration Act 1999.
Since 2017, referrals to private solicitors have occurred at the outset of the International Protection process to ensure applicants receive legal advice at the earliest stage. Prior to the commencement of the Act, referrals more typically took place at the appeals stage.
The following table shows the case expenditure (not including pay or operationalcosts) in relation to the provision of legal aid and advice in the area of international protection, as provided by the Legal Aid Board.
In Budget 2021, I provided an increased provision of over €2 million for the Legal Aid Board bringing its total funding to €44.6 million for this year, a 6% increase. This will enable the Board to recruit additional staff and meet other costs to enhance delivery of all of its services across the country.